Danbury printers leave legacy

DANBURY — There is grass growing in the parking lot of RR Donnelley, the printing plant that announced last week it would close, laying off 150 workers.

It was not always that way. In its heyday, the company had more than 350 employees and was always busy.

“We ran three shifts, seven days a week,” said James Heussner, assistant treasurer and controller of the company when it went by the name of Danbury Printing Litho.

“That’s too bad,” Heussner, 77, said when told the plant was closing. But in a world where everything is online, printing is not thriving. Donnelley, based in Chicago, and the largest printing company in North America, has been closing plants across the continent in the last few years.

“It isn’t making a lot of money,” Heussner said from Florida, where he now lives. “And the state of Connecticut isn’t making things any better with its taxes.”

The closing marks the end of a company with a history stretching back to 1931, when the Previdi family owned a printing company. It first began to grow after 1946, when Eugene Previdi bought the family business from his brother, John.

Eugene eventually changed the company name from Modern Printery to Danbury Printing Litho.

“He added lithography to the business,” said Eugene’s son, Eugene Jr. Even after he retired, the elder Eugene went to work and ran the company’s Linotype and letterpress presses.

The company grew. Instead of one shop on Thorpe Street, it added a second location near Danbury Airport, then a third on Backus Avenue.

The company’s rise was the work of Cecil Previdi, also Eugene’s son, who had worked in the presses since he was a teenager. A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, he became the president of Danbury Printing Litho. He invested in new technology and the best workers available.

“He’d go to RTI and get the cream of the crop,” Eugene Previdi Jr. said of his brother.

The company consolidated its business in the Prindle Lane facility in 1978. It invested in Harris presses — then state-of-the-art. It had nationally know clients.

“I would say our two biggest were Time-Life Books and American Express,” said Heussner.

The company also printed materials for the Sotheby’s auction house, for Avon and Reader’s Digest. It had a close working relationship with Grolier Inc., the publisher with headquarters in Danbury. Danbury Printing Litho had its own training program for printers, buyers and art directors.

“It had a great customer service department and great printers,” Heussner said.

But in 1987, Danbury Printing Litho suffered a huge shock when a company plane crashed in southern Wisconsin.

Cecil Previdi, then 44, was killed in the cash. In all, eight people died — six employees of Danbury Printing Litho and two from Webtech, an Illinois company.

Previdi’s widow, Melissa, who was director of sales and marketing, took over as president. She kept the Previdi name in the company until 1994, when Banta Corp., a national printing firm, bought the Danbury plant from the Previdi family.

In 2007, RR Donnelley bought Banta.

After five years, it closed the place down — which is terrible news for its 150 employees and an occasion for melancholy for those who knew the company in its prime.

“It was an interesting place to work,” Heussner said.

bmiller@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345

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